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Finland's Manninen wins Nordic combined gold

SAPPORO, Japan -- Finland's Hannu Manninen finally won an
individual gold medal after he surged from behind Friday to win the
Nordic combined 4.66 miles sprint at the Nordic World Ski
Championships.

Manninen, who has three World Cup titles and leads the Nordic
combined standings this year, had never previously won an
individual gold medal at the Olympics or the world championships.

"This is my dream and my goal," said Manninen. "I've spent so
much time thinking of this moment and now I am relieved and
happy."

Germany's Bjorn Kircheisen went into the cross-country portion
of the event with a 16-second lead after nailing the longest jump
of 439.63 feet on the large hill.

Manninen started the cross-country race in ninth place, 49
seconds off the lead after a jump of 125 meters. He finished with a
time of 17 minutes, 40.2 seconds.

Norway's Magnus Moan was 0.03 seconds off the pace for silver
while Kircheisen took bronze.

"The finish with Magnus was very tough," added Manninen. "I
had to do everything I could to win. I knew I was very strong in
that kind of finish, I knew I had a chance and that I couldn't miss
it."

Japan's Daito Takahashi suffered a horrendous crash when his
left ski became elevated during his jump on the large hill.

Takahashi was taken to a nearby hospital and was diagnosed with
a broken left shoulder.

In cross-country events, Cristian Zorzi edged Russia's Vassili
Rotchev in a photo finish as Italy took the men's team sprint gold
medal.

Russia took the lead just before the last changeover, but Zorzi
completed a strong final lap to give Italy its first medal of the
meet. The Czech Republic finished third.

Tor Arne Hetland crashed out midway through the final and
favorite Norway finished a disappointing seventh. Olympic gold
medalist Sweden failed to qualify for the final.

The Italian team of Zorzi and Renato Pasini finished with a time
of 17 minutes, 50.6 seconds.

In the women's team sprint, World Cup leader Virpi Kuitunen and
Liisa Riitta Roponen of Finland captured the gold medal with a
winning time of 16:20.9.

The German team of Evi Sachenbacher Stehle and Claudia
Kuenzel-Nystad took silver.

Defending champions Norway, comprising individual sprint gold
medalist Astrid Jacobsen and defending World Cup sprint champion
Marit Bjorgen, finished over three seconds back in third place.

The 2007 championships mark the first time the meet is being
held as an independent event in Asia. In 1972, when the Olympic
Winter Games were held in Sapporo, they doubled as the FIS World
Ski Championships.

The competition will continue Saturday with the cross-country
9.32 miles pursuit and ski jumping events.